By Gene Phelps
Special to the Gazette
ELLISTOWN – East Union ended a four-year playoffs “hex” last Friday with its 42-26 comeback victory against Bruce in the opening round of the MHSAA Class 2A state football playoffs.
Hex is what Urchins head coach Kevin Walton called his program’s inability to advance in the postseason.
“We’d go to the playoffs and lose,” he said. “To win a playoff game means a lot to this team. This was a team win. Our offense and defense stepped up and played well in the second half.”
The Urchins (9-2) host Charleston (8-4) this week in the second round. The Tigers defeated Pisgah 34-6 in the first round.
East Union trailed Bruce 26-13 early in the second half, but rallied to score four unanswered touchdowns – three of those on passes by sophomore quarterback Ty Walton.
The younger Walton, who completed 14 of 21 passes for 242 yards, threw two interceptions in the first half.
“Most of it was my fault in the first half … I threw those two picks,” he said. “We came out the second half and executed on offense.”
Perhaps the biggest play in the second half came from the work of the Urchins’ defense. East Union, leading 27-26 with 8:43 remaining in the fourth quarter, fumbled a punt that was recovered by Bruce at the 50-yard line.
On the Trojans’ first play, running back Deavion Cullins fumbled the ball back to East Union.
On the huge turnover, defensive end Chase Brown hit Cullins and exposed the ball to defensive back Hayden Roberts, who knocked the ball into the air. An alert lineman, Bryce McLellen, caught the ball and raced to Bruce’s 39.
“Hayden ripped the ball out and it flew up in the air,” McLellen said. “I caught it. It felt like a dream.”
McLellen was playing in just his fourth game this season after returning from a knee injury that required surgery.
“That was awesome for (McLellen),” Kevin Walton said. “That was a big play. We needed it bad.”
East Union took a 35-26 lead four plays later when Walton threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to DeJuan Hubbard with 7:59 left. Hubbard caught five passes for 126 yards and two TDs. Her had a 58-yard score early in the second half to cut Bruce’s lead to 26-20.
Walton’s third touchdown pass of the second half was a 17-yarder to the elusive Roberts, who made the catch, dodged a tackle attempt and reached the end zone as he was starting to fall.
Roberts returned an interception 66 yards for a score in the first quarter.
“This was a big win for our seniors,” Roberts said. “We had to do it for them.”
Colton Plunk, who rushed for 86 yards on nine carries, scored on a 4-yard run in the second quarter for East Union. Micah Fulgham scored the Urchins final points on a 14-yard run late in the fourth quarter.